North Africa, West Asia

International community neglects to act on Yazidi genocide

Mass murder, rape, slavery, and kidnapping; the situation for the Yazidi community is dire and the international community's reponse has been wholly inadequate.

Andrea Ackerman
23 November 2015

Demotix/Björn Kietzmann. All rights reserved.The appalling crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) have undoubtedly terrorized the populations who continue to suffer at its hands and those across the globe watching from their computer screens and televisions.

The minority population of Yazidi women and girls are being systematically kidnapped, bought and sold into slavery, given to ISIL fighters as ‘gifts’—and these actions are merely considered ‘spoils of war.’ Girls as young as six and nine years old are being raped, tortured, executed and trafficked by ISIL. In numerous reports, hundreds of Yazidi women have committed suicide to escape their horrific situations. Even in light of these facts, the international community is currently failing to act on these atrocities.

ISIL steadily gained international notoriety after its creation in 2013. The group has taken over swathes of territory in parts of Syria and Iraq with the purpose of establishing a ‘caliphate’, or state governed by shari'a law. The group is known for its public acts of violent extremism and fierce rejection of all other religions and creeds, including other sects of Islam.

ISIL has specifically targeted the Yazidis, a small Kurdish religious minority that resides largely in the Nineveh province of Iraq. From 2014 to just earlier this year, several instances have been reported of ISIL systematically killing hundreds of Yazidi men and boys. A growing number of women and girls, approximately 3,000, have been captured and enslaved by the group because of their ethnic and religious identity.

ISIL has blatantly targeted the Yazidi population with the intention of 'cleansing' the region by eradicating the Yazidi population completely. ISIL justifies its actions through a very narrow interpretation of the Qur'an. It is clear that ISIL has committed gross war crimes and according to a March 2015 report by the United Nations, the actions of ISIL against the Yazidis might in fact constitute genocide.

If any lessons have been learned from past genocides, it is that external actions must be taken and they must be swift.

The situation for the Yazidi community is dire and Yazidi activists are calling on the international community to recognize the brutal genocidal campaign against its people and the thousands of women who are currently being held captive. The Syrian and Iraqi governments are incapable of rectifying the actions of ISIL against the Yazidis. According to the United Nations News Centre, the Iraqi security and military forces set to liberate its population from ISIL control allegedly committed its own set of human rights abuses by pillaging and burning villages and terrorizing local communities.

The women who are lucky enough to escape their captors in Iraq will continue to face discrimination. The Iraqi government considers women’s shelters illegal as they are considered “places that promote promiscuity,” despite the fact that the shelters are often the only option for the escaped women, as reported by prominent Iraqi activist, Yanar Mohammed.

During the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security in October, Mohammed testified that safe houses should be legalized. UNSC Resolution 2242 was passed, recognizing the rise of terrorism and violent extremism and their disproportionate effect on both girls and women. While this resolution has brought international attention to the rise of rape and gender-based violence being used as tactics of war and terror, the fact still remains that there is a lack of urgency from the Iraqi government, the UN, and the international community.

Meanwhile, a small number of activist networks are risking their lives to help the women and girls escape their captors. However, this is not a fight they can win alone. The battle against ISIL has included US-led coalition air strikes, western support of the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and now will receive the support of US Special Forces.

Despite all of these efforts, the situation remains more tense and complex than ever. The targeting of ISIL military operations doesn’t guarantee the disintegration of ISIL’s slave trade of women and girls or the prevent attacks on the Yazidi population.

The international community is inadequately prioritizing the gross enslavement of and genocidal acts committed against the Yazidis. Financial and logistical support should be provided to activists working to free enslaved persons and safe houses for escaped victims of ISIL should be made legal and plentiful.

If any lessons have been learned from past genocides, it is that external actions must be taken and they must be swift.

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